Mentoring Copy

In the context of recovery support, peer support interactions fall into two categories:

  • Support conversations which are focused on meeting specific needs or handling feelings and emotions
  • Mentoring conversations, which are focused on learning specific skills and changing behavior.

In both types of conversation, the peer support specialist is nonjudgmental, non-authoritative and nondirective, Peer support relationships occur between equals. A key indicator of this more equal relationship is the sharing of the peer support specialist’s own recovery story. Such disclosure would generally be considered inappropriate in a formal counseling relationship. Self-disclosure is part of a peer support specialist’s service as a role model for clients. This includes telling clients about what has been helpful and what has not been helpful in the peer specialist’s own recovery journey.

The most concise description of the job of the peer support specialist is “mentor and role model.” It is important that peer support specialists understand the purpose and processes of the mentoring relationship so that they can effectively fulfill this role on behalf of their clients.

Defining Mentoring

The term “mentor” comes from Greek mythology. Mentor was the name of the friend that Odysseus Entrusted to advise and guide his son when he left home to fight in the Trojan War. Modern understandings of what a mentor should be parallel the kind of relationship that Odysseus intended for his son.

Mentoring is a sustained, one-to-one relationship based in trust in which the mentor actively supports the learner to build capacity to enhance personal effectiveness.

Mentoring is a unique relationship that has benefits to both the mentor and the mentee (client). Key elements in the definition of mentoring help to distinguish it from coaching, therapy, role modeling or teaching, although mentoring does have some things in common with all of these other roles. In order to perform effectively in the mentoring role, peer support specialists must understand these key elements.

  1. Mentoring is a sustained relationship. That is, the mentoring relationship lasts over a period of time and is not limited to a single contact or interaction. While coaching, teaching or therapy may involve multiple interactions and endure over time, all of these functions can also be accomplished in a single encounter.
  2. Mentoring is a one-to-one relationship. In this respect, mentoring is a relationship in which the mentor and the mentee have a direct and individual relationship with one another.
  3. Mentoring is a relationship based in trust. While trust certainly enhances the teaching or coaching relationship, it is not a defining element of those relationships. The element of trust emphasizes the mutuality of the mentoring relationship.
  4. Mentoring is focused on support. The nature of the mentoring relationship is neither authoritative nor directive. Mentors support and encourage people to manage their own lives so that they can maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their behaviors and sustain their recovery. Mentoring is a powerful relationship that fosters personal development and empowerment.

Mentoring can be conducted in face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, e-mail, social media or other online mechanisms. While peer support as an identified profession is fairly new, the use of mentors and role models with shared experiences to address life issues has a long history. Think about groups such as Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous and you will find the roots of the peer support profession.

A mentor may be described as someone who is slightly farther ahead on the same path being traveled by the person receiving the mentoring. In such a relationship, experiential knowledge is valued equally highly or more highly than theoretical and academic expertise. As a mentor, the peer support specialist acts as a participant in the client’s recovery process therapy along with other trained care providers.

A mentor serves in the role of trusted guide or friend whose function in the relationship is to advance the best interests of the mentee. This is one thing that distinguishes the peer support specialist/mentor relationship from a casual friendship, where the purpose of the relationship is mutual benefit. That is not to say that the peer support specialist does not receive any benefits from the relationship, but these benefits are incidental to the benefits provided to the client.

In the role of mentor, the peer support specialist provides access to people, places and things that might be outside the client’s routine or normal environment. It is more appropriate for a mentor to act as a resource broker and show the mentee how to access the services and resources he or she needs than to provide those services.

This chart may be helpful in understanding what a mentor is and is not.

A Mentor Is A:





Resource Broker

A Mentor Is Not A:


Social Worker




Module 5 Activity: Mentor or Not?

Instructions: Click the box below to complete the Module 5 Activity: Mentor or Not?